‘Tiger tourism’ – India’s unique calling card

India is home to nearly 3,000 tigers. According to the latest census, the tiger population rose from 2,226 in 2014 to 2,967 in 2018 making India one of its biggest and most secure habitats.

India counts its tigers once every four years – so the next census is likely to be in 2022. Tiger tourism has been a big draw with travellers, especially domestic visitors.

The Ministry of Tourism organised a webinar on ‘Tigers and Tourism’ under the Dekho Apna Desh series, unveiling the rich heritage of tiger habitation in India and its relevance with tourism.

The session was moderated by Rupinder Brar, Addl. Director General, Ministry of Tourism and presented by Sandesh Kadur, an eminent wildlife conservation photographer and filmmaker, National Geographic Fellow, winner of BAFTA in photography and an EMMY nominee for outstanding cinematography.

Sitting amidst the picturesque forest of Agumbe, Sandesh started his hour-long talk on “Tigers and Tourism” travelling back in time to his teens when he would read books by the famous British hunter Jim Corbett and eventually got inspired to document the wild big cats for a living. Almost eight years ago, he travelled across India to document a video on tigers and tourism which brought him into understanding how Indian tourism is highly influenced by the large population of these mighty striped creatures.

The fascination for tigers, Sandesh mentioned, has existed since millennia. The intrinsic connection has been successfully seen through south western communities of India who represent their reverence for tigers by painting themselves in tiger stripes walking from temple to temple and village to village. Huli Vesha or Pili Yesais is a folk-dance famous in coastal Karnataka performed during Navratri to honour the Goddess Durga whose favoured animal is the tiger.

About 70% of the world’s tiger population is found in diverse habitats of India with about 15 species of big cats presently existing in 50 reserves spread across the country.

Starting from Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, in the north to the moist lands of Kaziranga National Park in Assam(north east) and the Sunderbans of West Bengal (east) to the dry lands of Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, Kanha and Bandhavgarh Tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh, central India, to many other reserves in the rainforests of Western Ghats such as Nagarhole National Park, Periyar Tiger reserve, Bandipur National Park and Anamalai Tiger reserve, Mudumalai National Park in southern India amongst many others, these large animals have been preserved in an array of different habitats.

Sandesh, who is also the filmmaker of the documentary Wild Cats of India, stressed on how being a responsible tourist and practising co-existence will go a long way in protecting the lives of these enormous cats. India’s astounding diversity in wildlife draws people to visit the country in large numbers and such crowding may be a threat to the animals, tigers in general, if sustainability is not made the focal point.